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Literally Issue 23 Closer To Heaven 2001 Part 1
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"It sounds like you're in a church hall up north;' says Chris. "Are you going to come up and tap the mice: 'Refresliments will be served in the interval - tea, coffee and Cornish pasties. And if you would make a donation to church funds..."'

Neil works some more on his text

Page 1 Page 2

"'This is your night';' says Chris.

"I originally had that in, but it was too corny," says Neil.

They pick at their food.

"I've never been this tense about something in my entire life," says Neil. "You have so many highs and lows. You have unbelievable lows." He turns to Chris. "On Saturday, when you were at the boxing..."

"Football."

..... it was awful. I said to Gemma on Monday, 'how suicidal were you on Saturday, on a scale of one to ten?' She said, 'twelve'."

They choose this moment to reflect on the music they have written for the show. "Chris Nightingale said there's three types of song;' says Neil. "One: Big numbers and set pieces -'Positive role model', 'My night', 'Caligula'.

Chris sips some white wine. 4'We should have a pot of tea with fi8h and chips;' he observes.

"The second half is so draining;' says Neil, then adds, uit's quite possible to go through life just quoting Billie Tricks." He says to Chris:

"What do you think of the line, which I really' hate, 'you've given the best a woman could give'? I find it a bit misogynistic.'

"Isn't the whole play a bit misogynistic?" provokes Chris.

"I hope it's not," says Neil earnestly.

"I don't think it is;' says Chris.

They walk back over to the theatre.

"We're not even the performers;' laughs Chris.

"Thank God for that," says Neil. He smiles. "It's a big day in our lives, this. 'What are you doing tonight?' we're just opening our first West End musical."

"Oh God," says Chris. "Oh dear."

They try to sneak in without the fans noticing. It's difficult - the stage door is right by the entrance. "Why can't it be round the back like any other theatre?" Chris complains.

Backstage, you can hear the cast warming up their voices. Chris looks at a Pet Shop Boys interview which is stuck to the wall. "'Well into their forties'," he reads out, laughing. Paul Keating wanders about, his shirt off.

"Why are you not doing warm-ups?" Chris asks him.

"I've got choreography notes," he says.

"Is there not an empty dressing-room?" Chris asks no one in particular. "With a sofa? I

word."

need half-an-hour's kip." He well knows that there isn't. "I could at least do with a chair," he mutters. "There must be somewhere to sit."

They cram themselves into the small production office. "You know;" says Chris, "it's very like the back office of Heaven." Heaven is one of London's most popular nightclubs; they will sometimes have to explain to people that the "Heaven" in the title of the musical has no relation to the nightclub of the same name.

Neil puts some King champagne they've been sent into the little fridge by the door. "Very Jeffrey Archer," he says.

"I'm going to take mine home," Chris declares.

"Typical north-westerner;" says Neil. "That's what Bernard would do." He stands up. "I've got to go and rehearse my speech."

"We could be watching East Enders," says Chris. He smiles at the sound of the singers' continuing vocal warm-ups. "It's great when they go up a key." Then he sighs. "Bloody hell, I'm knackered." He plays with some scissors on the desk, then looks at them. "Even the scissors are from IKEA," he says. He fiddles some more. "I feel quite nervous, funnily enough," he repeats. "I wouldn't feel quite as nervous if I had a sofa to lie on." He gets a good luck text message from a friend. "I wonder if I'll have a panic attack," he says. "I was sick last time, during the workshop, when it was all falling apart. We think it was a panic attack. I've never had one before." He sits back. "It's fanny, isn't it?" he laughs. "A lot of groups have talked about 'that musical we've always promised ourselves'. Very few have gone this far."

Neil returns from his private speech rehearsal. "I feel like I'm going to be sick," he says.

"Maybe we should have a chill pill," says Chris, half-quoting the musical.

"My heart's beating," says Neil.

"Is it beating like a drum?" Chris asks. "Going boom boom boom?"

"I don't know that it is," says Neil.

Chris worries that the Pet Shop Boys have made an etiquette blunder. They haven't got anything for the cast,

"Aren't we meant to get them something?" he asks Neil.

"May 31st," says Neil, meaning that they're supposed to buy the cast something on opening night.

"We could get them some merchandise," Chris suggests.

Neil studies his notes, and scribbles.

"Are you still refining your speech?" Chris asks. "You could still bottle out."

"I'm not going to bottle out," Neil says.

"You could always read a Shakespeare sonnet

-           that's what you'd normally do," Chris suggests.

"'This is sonnet 110, for those opening their first musical'," mugs Neil.

"'We've decided to open our musical at a south London school'," says Chris. (The Labour party has just opened their election campaign, to much ridicule, with a Tony Blair speech at just such a school.) "You should get Neil to talk about Geri Hallowell," he says. "She's hijacked the election to promote her album. Talk about shameless."

Neil practises his speech some more.

"Are you having a spotlight?" Chris asks.

"No," he says, "I'm too sweaty." He considers this. "I need some perfume," he says. "I feel sweaty. I need some cologne. I'm going to go to the men's room, see what they have." Soon he is back. "I'm wearing Armani, by the way." He reads the theatre programme, in which the Pet Shop Boys have insisted on the briefest and simplest biography. He is amused to note that Stacey Roca, who plays Shell, has an ever shorter one. "Stacy has out-cooled us," he acknowledges.

"What time are we starting?" Chris asks.

"8.15 is my speech," says Neil. "For many people the highlight of the show."

Someone shouts that it is now 8.05.

"Oh crikey," says Neil.

"Oh deary me," says Chris.

Chris flicks through the programme. "'Order the CD now'," he reads. He laughs. They've barely started making it.

The clock ticks on.

"Maybe I could go to the toilet," says Chris.

"What a good idea," says Neil.

Chris goes, and returns.

"We're going to light up the night with fire..." sings Neil.

"God, I hope we get through that first number," says Chris. "It's a bloody big number."

They sit there, waiting.

"I'm voting Green," says Chris. "I care about the environment, me. I think it's the number one issue for the world. No one ever says these resources are finite. One day there'll be a huge panic that there's no oil left." He holds up the bottle of water in his hand. "Look at this. What a waste."

They move into the hallway, in preparation. Neil goes to the bathroom and Chris discusses the crowds at Arsenal with Paul Broughton who plays the loud, uncouth pop manager Bob Saunders.

"Can you come down?" a woman shouts.

"Neil's still on the toilet," says Chris. "Neil" he hollers, "you're delaying the show."

Neil appears soon alter, and while Chris vanishes to the back of the auditorium Neil makes his way towards the stage - as the crowd applauds - until he is standing just in front of the stage, where he says: "I just wanted to welcome you all to the Arts Theatre tonight. It's a very exciting night for us, because it's the first public performance of Closer to Heaven. The official first night is on May 31st but this is the first preview. Chris and I have been working with Jonathan Harvey on this for; on and off, about five years now - over the last year with the Really Useful Group, with the director, designer, choreography, technical people, cast, so it's a giant collaboration. Tonight the collaboration includes you, because you're the first audience to see this and we want to feel your energy." After which there is a big whoop and more applause. "The first rehearsal finished about two hours ago," Neil continues, "so..." He breaks to say something else, because since he has been speaking, he has been doing so under a steady barrage of flash bulbs. "Could people not take photographs during the show, please?.. If there are any technical hitches, will you please bear with us, and I hope you enjoy it. Thank you very much."
The lights go down, Billie Tricks appears, framed by the bulbs of a backstage make-up mirror in a nightclub, and the first public performance of Closer to Heaven begins.

Afterwards, backstage, the mood is jubilant. Some of the performers mutter about mistakes made, but these were not the kind of mistakes the audience could notice, and the audience quite obviously loved it.

"It goes from tragedy to triumph very quickly," notes Chris. "It's very moral. When there's been a really sad scene, you don't know whether to clap."

They both look happy, and very relieved. Neil takes a bottle of champagne into the dressing rooms, and a little celebrating begins.

May 29, 2001. Chris and Jonathan Harvey have agreed to do a live web chat on virgin.net to promote the musical. They meet at the virgin.net offices in Leicester Square.

"You can type fast, can't you?" Chris asks Jonathan. "You can speak in my tongue, can't you?"

"Yes," says Jonathan.

"God," sighs Chris. "It's two days to go."

They are taken into the room where the web chat will take place. Four computer screens are lined up on a table. The idea is that they will sit in front of one, but that a man on one side will select the questions which appear in the chat itself, and that a woman by the window will type in their answers.

"We don't have to type?" says Chris, sounding disappointed. "I think it'd be good, me typing slowly."

The announced start time arrives and passes. There is a technical problem, and people run around tapping at keys and pulling at cords. This goes on for a while.

"We're not keeping our fans waiting, are we?" says Jonathan.

The questions begin. It is a slow process. They are asked a question, they answer it, and something of what is said is then typed in by a woman at the end of the room. So, for instance, Chris is asked how long they have been making records.

"Eighteen years," he says.

"218 yeas," the typist types, then, when Literally points out the slight error, corrects it.

The early questions are a little dull. Both Chris and Jonathan are a bit surprised that there's nothing spicier, and it takes a while to realise that many questions are being kept from them. "Isn't there anything saucier?" Chris complains. "Let's choose our own, shall we?"

They also realise that for the first half of the chat the virgin.net people have been asking them old questions sent in before the chat started, and not letting them see the comments coming in live on the chat-site, so that by the time they do see the live continents, there are plenty of suggestions that Chris and Jonathan are not really there because they don't seem to be reacting to anything anyone is saying. After that, the chat gets much better, though Chris and Jonathan still don't realise that the typist is often summarising what they have said - often in a way which doesn't sound like them, and often misunderstanding the gist of what they're saying. The typist also adds little bits of computer speak

- like Chris "saying" LOL (laughing out loud) -which he would never have typed himself. "Lots of computer prat stuff"' he fumes later.

This is the full text of the chat, not as it necessarily happened, but as it was later posted for posterity on virgin. net:

Jane:     What made you want to do a musical? Jonathan: I've always been a big fan of musicals. It felt like a natural progression from writing straight plays.

Chris:    Jonathan's always used music in his plays, sometimes Pet Shop Boys music... It was a natural thing for us to want to do, because like in Spinal Tap it's one of those things rock groups always promise themselves. When you've been making records for 18 years, it's something fresh and exciting. Also we found that when we've done our own shows we've worked with people in the theatre and we like the way they work, the intellectualism you get, the way the costume designers and choreography all come together, it's totally different from the music industry. Mikey: Did Jonathan approach the PS~ about

doing a musical, or was it the other way around?

Jonathan: The Pet Shop Boys approached me.

The BBC wanted to do a television musical and suggested me as writer. Chris: We particularly liked Jonathan's play Beautifully Thing. Phil: Jonathan - have you written any plays before?

Jonathan: 13 plays, one film and a bit of TV Mikey: I heard that Closer to Heaven took about six years to get to stage after inception. Why did it take so long, and are you planning to do another musical? Jonathan: It took six years because we spoke about it one day and had the first meeting a year after. For the first few years we only worked on it a few weeks a year; because we were working on other things. Chris: The whole process is a lot more complicated than making a record. With a musical you're writing it, but you haven't got any kind of deal. You have to get people interested in it and making it work from the initial stages - you don't know how it's going to work. It's a real learning process. It was only last year when we did a workshop that we realised how much work needed doing on the piece. Having said that, the time seems to have flown by. But we've also been touring, putting out an album and Jonathan's been doing other work -two series of a sitcom.

Joemoz: Have any tracks from the musical been marked as singles yet? "My night"? Chris: Yes. We're thinking of releasing "Positive role model", sung by Paul Keating. None of the songs in the musical will be released as singles performed by the Pet Shop Boys, but produced by the Pet Shop Boys and Stephen Hague. Toni: Jonathan - do people always remember you for Beautiful Thing? Do you want to write something that will replace that as your main claim to fame? Jonathan: People do remember me for Beautifully Thing, but that doesn't bother me. Toni: Pet Shop Boys, do you get pangs of nostalgia for Eighties music when you were on Top Of The Pops with all the other Eighties artists?

Chris: No, I don't really like living in the past. I'm not really into retro stuff. I think the most exciting time is always the present. Having said that I think the Eighties were fantastic, it wasn't the decade style forgot. 1988-89 was my favourite time ever. It was film, inspirational - it was when the Nineties began, all the house music.

Rachel25: What do you think about the Mamma Mia musical, have you seen it?

Jonathan: I really, really like Mamma Mia, though I didn't like the audience. They talked through all the speaking and joined in with all the songs.

Chris: I like Abba's songs, but I never need to hear them again. I thought the show was ghastly (laughs) and nothing like Closer to Heaven. Prm2OOl What are your favourite songs from Closer to Heaven?

Chris:    I think I like "For all of us". It's a sad weepy song at the end of the musical. Jonathan: I think my favourite is "Friendly fire", sung by Frances Barber.

Chris:    She sings it fantastically well. Joemoz: I loved the musical but I have to say that I think "Caligula" is somewhat misplaced in the musical, and does not bring the storyline forward - do you agree, and are you considering changing it?

Jonathan: We have already changed "Caligula", we agreed with you. It is now one of the strongest scenes in the show.

Joemoz: Have you made, or are you planning any substantial changes to the musical, as compared to the first preview?

Jonathan: There's lots of small changes each night.

Chris Dahl: What do you think about Berlin/Germany - did you enjoy the nightfall? Do you have a favourite club?

Chris: Me and Neil really like going to Germany. We've been working with a producer called Chris Zippel in Berlin. I love your sausages.

Sophie: Any chance to see the musical in another country, in Europe or the USA? Chris: With any luck. We have investors from Germany, Mexico, New York. It'd be nice if it

could open in other cities around the world. It's not a spectacular like Cats, or Phantom Of The Opera. It's a play with music, a smaller scale production.

Prm2OOl: Why is Closer to Heaven in such a small theatre? I think PSB likes it bombastic.

Jonathan:          Because it's an intimate show so at the moment it requires an intimate space

Chris:    It's our first musical. We didn't want hype or a really big event. We want people to discover it. We're testing the water to see how it's received. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote Joseph for a school production I~ thuk. It's all part of the learning process. When we made our first record it was released only on twelve-inch imports from New York, so it wasn't exactly bombastic.

Coaster: I know it's probably been asked 100 times but why the name "Pet Shop Boys"?

Jonathan: Because they both come from pet shop owning families. Chris: Neil has a chain of pet shops in the north east of England - Tennant's Terriers. Pikachu: I remember the Pet Shop Boys when I was in my early teens, and you have been going for a number of years now - when do you plan to retire and what are your hobbies? Chris: Well we have no plans to retire because we enjoy making music and there's no real reason to stop. And hobbies, well, stamp collecting...

Rondicko:          Since you've always disassociated yourselves from Eighties things, why are you touring the US with Soft Cell? Chris: They're just one act on one of the most varied, broad and exciting touring bills ever to travel across Asnerica. Also we really like Soft Cell and David Ball went to my school. Paninari: We fans hope Closer to Heaven will be released as video, do you know something about that? Chris: There are no plans to film Closer to Heaven and release it as a video. I think that plays and opera etc. don't really work on film, but I'd hope that one day soon it will be made into a film. I think it'd make a very good film. Dez: Andrew Lloyd Webber - what is his part in this musical?

Jonathan: His company are producing the musical, but he has no creative input whatsoever. Roly: Do you enjoy doing interviews order the Net or prefer face to face?

Chris: I think I prefer over the Net. You don't have to shave.

Sophie: Why doesn't Neil sing in the musical?

Why aren't you really on stage?

Chris: Neither Neil, me or Jonathan are performing in the musical. We are the writers and, as anyone who has seen It Couldn’t "Happen Here will know, me and Neil are not the best actors in the world.

Roxy: Was your childhood dream to become famous? If not, what was it?

Chris: No, I had never wanted to become famous and do not regard myself as famous. I dislike the whole concept of fame and people such as boy-band members ~ho only seek fame -they are shameless. There's a song about it in the show.

Neutron: Jonathan, will you give Neil and Chris a part in the new series of Gimme Gimme Gimme?

Jonathan: No, I wish it to be a success! Chris: As if we would agree to appear in Gimme, Gimme, Gimme!

Edge2life: Do you really have an album ready just in case you die called Posthumously? Chris: There are a lot of unreleased tracks lying around in demo form and I'm sure that they may get released if we both died in a plane crash or something but the repackaged albums contain some previously unreleased mixes and new things.

More camber Boy: Are there plans to release the album from the show? I saw the show last week and thoroughly enjoyed it. Good luck with it. Chris: Yes there will be a cast album due in the auturan.

Neutron: Does writing songs for the new album feel very different from writing for Closer to Heaven?

Chris: Yes. The new album is very different in style to the music in Closer to Heaven. It's quite a different direction, but we're using guitars, real drum samples and it's not so much dance music, but the songs are very heartfelt and emotional

and quite sad, but with very strong melodies, but it's Beautifully

Chris Berlin: Where does the music come

from? Is there an orchestra, or is it from tape? Or even live with synchs? Chris: In the show the music is generated by computer with samplers and electronic keyboards and there's also a live percussionist -there are no tapes.

Guest SO: Chris, I thought you thought guitars were dirty. Chris: Yes, I must be getting dirtier in my old age, but I can't play the guitar; it's Neil.

Claire psb: Are you going on holiday this year?

Jonathan: I'm going to Morocco in August and Mauritius in December. Chris: I'm going to Ibiza. I've never been but I've heard it's very good. Virgin. net: Thanks everyone for joining this chat with Jonathan Harvey and Chris Lowe. Jonathan: Go and see the show! Chris: Thanks everyone for the questions, hope the answers were informative - not everything said is true. Hope to see you all soon. By the way, the musical is rather good! Keep sending your photos to the Pet Shop Boys website, because I like seeing what you all look like.

Even this is not an accurate version of what was transmitted during the chat. Virgin.net had removed and re-edited as they chose - all the "Lou’s and suchlike had gone, presumably because Chris had been annoyed about them, but also many of the spikiest bits of the conversation, as when Chris announced, inaccurately, that Neil and Janet Street-Porter were a couple.

"I want to do another one," reflects Chris in hindsight, "and do the typing myself. It's very annoying when you don't get the true voice of the person."

May 29, 2001. It is two days until the opening night of Closer to Heaven. In the last few days, there have been plenty of worried sleepless nights, and plenty of changes to the show. After a suggestion by the theatre and film director Stephen Daidry, who directed Billy Elliot, they

have changed the end of the show, so that "Positive role model" begins slowly and builds up, instead of launching straight into itself. (Another suggestion of his which has been taken up is that Shell should be topless in the "Nine out of ten" bed scene.) Neil has also completely rewritten the words of "Positive role model" so that they make more sense of Straight Dave's character and where he has ended up. Designer Ian MacNeil has also been to see the show and suggested it should look grubbier and less theatrical - some of the costumes are being changed with that in mind, particularly the dancers' costumes at the end. The end of the first half has also been completely remodelled. When the previews began, "It's just my little tribute to Caligula, darling!" was performed as though taking place on the nightclub stage. It is now performed - broken up - as a rehearsal that afternoon, and an early scene, where Billie Tricks paints Mile End Lee, has also been changed to make more sense of this: Mile End Lee is now dressed as a Roman, and Billie is painting him to get inspiration for her Caligula theme night. (As for Billie herself, they reminded themselves while doing an interview with The Observer newspaper that her original name was the more Germanic Billie Trix, and they have decided that this now should be the character's name: in early copies of the theatre programme it will say Billie Tricks - "collectors items", Neil notes - and after that she will be known as Billie Trix forevermore.)

During the interval, Neil and Chris sneak backstage. They seem happy enough, talking about whether or not it's a good idea after all for Shell to show her breasts. (They don't yet know this will only be the beginning. Within a few weeks, Straight Dave will be licking her nipples and she will be disappearing beneath the blankets and heading for his groin.)

As Neil and Chris sit in the production office a woman comes in and takes a Flake out of the fridge. Chris looks alarmed and says that he was about to eat it - only now has he realised that it is a prop: the Flake which one of the tacky celebrities brandishes in the second half of the show during "Shameless". Though he also

observes that maybe it's not the correct brand. "It should be a white one," he says, "the Anthea Turner one."

They talk about the Internet, web chats and their web site.

"I'm really into saying lots of things on the Internet that aren't true," says Chris. "That's what it's for."

"It is," Neil concedes. "It's its other purpose, apart from sex."

"Sex, lies and video cams," says Chris.

As they hear the announcement telling the audience to return to their seats, they hit on an idea. They could get different celebrities to do the interval announcements each night.

"We could get Sir Ian McKellen in to do it," says Chris.

"Janet'd do it," says Neil.

"Kathy Burke," says Jonathan Harvey.

"Dawn French," says Neil.

"Liz Hurley," says Chris.

"Jamie Bell," says Neil. "It's another of our brilliant ideas."

After the second half, Chris slips out the back of the theatre. "I'm going to dash out to McDonalds quickly," he says, and does.

Neil and Jonathan Harvey discuss some parts of the show which might be improved. "Author; your leading lady is messing up one of your best lines," Neil tells Jonathan. "'I collect sexy working-class boys - I recommend it to anyone'." Then they discuss the beginning of the "For all of us" scene, and decide that the underlying music needs to start right at the beginning of the scene. Neil also frets that the lights go off Straight Dave right at the show's end, just as he is about to make his final gesture. "He should be in a glow," Neil says. "Like Jesus or something."

"He's supposed to smile?" Jonathan asks.

"He's supposed to look.. confident," Neil says. "Like he's on his way."

May 31, 2001. Tonight, Closer to Heaven

officially opens. It's a hot night. Outside the theatre are photographers and film cameras. Elton John and Janet Street-Porter make their way through the crowds; Andrew Lloyd Webber

circulates. It feels like quite an event, a feeling which only increases when the performance starts. There's laughter from the start, and the euphoria during the curtain calls is extensive and unforced. Famous members of the press are seen applauding keenly, and the word seems to be that they like it. (The next morning everyone will discover that this is not the whole picture -see News, pages 3A - but it would be difficult to get any other impression tonight.)

Afterwards, there are drinks in the Tapes bar in the theatre basement. Spirits are high.

"What a good night that was," says Chris.

"We've had a fantastic night," says Neil.

A few people wander back into the empty theatre, and sit in the audience seats, away from the party. Chris talks to Tom Walker who plays Mile End Lee, and who he has talked to many times before in the last few weeks. Chris suddenly says to Tom Walker, "you're not from Manchester?" (Chris thought he was from Manchester because he studied drama there.)

"Somerset," Tom Walker says.

"What is your real accent?" Chris asks.

"What I'm talking now."

"It's very actor-y," Chris comments.

"That's why he's an actor," intercedes Neil. "My first day at school they called me Poshie."

They compare the reactions they've heard.

"Keith Allen could not believe how good it was," says Chris.

"Ian McKellen wants to play Billie Trix," says Neil.

Chris, thoroughly satisfied by the night, decides to go home. He heads off through the stage door then returns a few minutes later. That way's shut.

Neil leads a convoy on foot to the after show party at the bar AKA, where revelries will continue late into the night. Quite a few fans also follow, trailing down the street behind him. On the way, he stops off at The Ivy restaurant where some friends were enjoying an after-dinner meal. They have just left. The doorman asks him how the opening night was.

"It went very well," says Neil, and gestures behind him. "As you can see, we've brought half the audience."

Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 2001: All Articles have been
Taken From Literally 2001 Issue 24

 

 

 

 

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